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AFSCME Says No to Private School Vouchers

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Congressional leaders managed to avoid shutting down the federal government over the weekend by agreeing to a spending package that will keep the government operating through September 30, the end of the fiscal year 2017.

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. All Americans, especially parents whose kids attend public school, have reason to be worried.

One provision in that spending package – which the House and the Senate plan to vote on this week – will harm public schools by spending your tax dollars on a misguided private-school voucher scheme.

Long a pet project for right-wing lawmakers, the provision calls for setting aside $45 million for the D.C. private school voucher program for the rest of this fiscal year and instructs Congress to continue funding the scheme in the future.

That means the D.C. vouchers could become the template for a nationwide voucher scheme in the future. In other words, billions of dollars of your tax dollars could be funneled to private schools rather than shoring up our nation’s public school systems.

First, some background.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are big on “school choice,” whether it’s a voucher for a private school, tax credits to help families pay private-school tuitions, tax-free private education savings account or scholarship programs.

Sounds innocent enough, right? Don’t be fooled.

As Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) explains in a recent report, “Providing students with more choices sounds great. But that is not what their plans would do. By diverting taxpayer funds away from public to private schools, we are taking away parents’ and students’ choice to go to a quality public school. … It means forcing students to attend an unaccountable private school or an underfunded public school.”

Voucher schemes would give billions of dollars of tax breaks to millionaires and other well-to-do families – people who need it the least. Many of them, by the way, can already afford to pay private school tuition.

These tax breaks will drastically cut federal assistance for public education. That is, Uncle Sam will put public schools – which are already struggling for state and local funds in many instances – on a starvation diet to give well-off Americans yet another tax break.

Trump wants Congress to ramp up the federal voucher program in fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1. His budget proposal for next year seeks $1.25 billion in new voucher funding.

This is a naked, cynical attempt to undermine public education – DeVos’ lifelong goal. AFSCME strongly opposes vouchers, private school tuition tax credits and tax-free private education savings accounts and scholarship programs. We will not stand by and let this happen.